Attempts to boost knowledge transfer between Welsh universities and businesses are having little impact on the economy, a study has concluded.
So-called "third leg" funding, intended to help universities work with business in order to turn their ideas into money, would be better invested in setting up publicly funded research institutes that are independent of universities, according to a report by Robert Huggins, director of the Centre for Regional Economic and Enterprise Development at Sheffield University. Such institutes could recruit staff from universities as well as other relevant organisations, said Dr Huggins, who wrote the report with Cardiff University city and planning researcher Stevie Upton and business consultant Martin Jones.
Dr Huggins told The Times Higher that investing more in third-leg activities in Welsh universities fails to address the root cause of Wales' under performing economy: the "ongoing lack of a major research and development base". His survey of Welsh universities, together with interviews with representatives of higher education, business and government, uncovered significant flaws in the Welsh Assembly Government's knowledge transfer strategy. A major problem is that most work is concentrated in Cardiff University. "The limited research bases of a number of institutions significantly reduces their ability and propensity to engage in these activities," the report says.
The business community also says many universities suffer from a "knowledge lag", in which the technology they use and the skills they teach are either out of date or irrelevant to the future development of the economy.
Dr Huggins said: "If you look at strong economic regions around the world, they have public sector research organisations that are dedicated to conducting more applied research. Although the Assembly Government is looking at that, it has not yet made clear that it is going to do anything to move in that direction."
Merfyn Jones, chair of Higher Education Wales and vice-chancellor of the University of Wales, Bangor, said that the report "diagnoses some of the challenges facing Wales", but added that it appeared to underestimate the success that universities play in key areas such as creating spin-off companies and carrying out consultancy work.